09 Jun 2018

FAI and the environment: working towards a sustainable future for the air sports community

What will air sports look like 50 years from now? Sustainability is key if we – and our children – are to continue enjoying competitive and recreational aviation as we do today.

As the world governing body for air sports, one of our aims is therefore to find ways to reduce any negative effects air sports have on people, wildlife and the world itself, while protecting the right of aviation enthusiasts and fans to continue enjoying their chosen disciplines.

Here, we take closer look at some of the environmental challenges facing the air sports community, and explain what the FAI is doing to try to minimise them.

Air sports and the environment

Some air sports have very little negative effect on the environment. Paragliding, for example, is powered by naturally ocurring forces, while Aeromodelling enthusiasts have long been proponents of electric engines. 

Others, such as general aviation and rotorcraft, are less in tune with the natural world. Yet on a global scale, the air sports community’s environmental impact is actually fairly minimal – partly thanks to the longevity of the equipment used.

“Our planes, gliders, balloons and parachutes have a lifespan far superior to the equipment used in many other sports,” said FAI Environmental Commission (EnvC) President Pierre Duval.
“The average age of the planes in a general aviation sports fleet is around 35 years, meaning they consume very few resources in renewal terms.

“But just because our impact is small does not mean there is no need to work to reduce it, or to improve people’s perception of it.”

The sound of speed

For many motorised air sports fans, roaring engines are part of the thrill. But not everyone appreciates the noise created by motorsports events.

“Noise pollution is often the environmental factor most noticed by the population at large, even if air sports spectators often appreciate the loud soundtrack,” Duval said.
“So working to lessen, or at least change the frequency of, our sound footprint is one of our top priorities at the moment.”

Fortunately, recent technological advances can help us to face this and other challenges.

“Human flight only became possible and evolved to its current state as a result of pioneers harnessing the most advanced technologies of their era,” Duval said.

“Part of the EnvC’s role is to continue the FAI tradition of supporting these advances. 

“Last year, for example, we gave Professor Frank Anton from Siemens the FAI Environment Commission Award for his work on electric aircraft, which bring the potential for a sharp decrease in air sports’ sound footprint.

“We have also rewarded manufacturers of equipment that incorporates electric propulsion, such as gliders with built-in electric flight devices.”

The FAI “green” event standard

One of the FAI’s main environmental projects at the moment is to introduce a “green” standard across the hundreds of air sports events it runs and supports each year.

“To protect and improve the image of air sports from an ecological point of view, it is important to demonstrate how much we are striving to respect the environment at FAI events,” Duval said. 

“This is why the EnvC has developed a ‘green’ certification procedure for competitions and gatherings in a bid to ensure that all impact reduction criteria are taken into account.”

The good news on this front is that many of the fastest-growing air sports – such as drone racing – are environmentally friendly by nature.

“We now run numerous drone sports competitions at which pilots experience the joys of flying these fully electric craft in very small spaces,” Duval said.
“These events have a very small environmental impact in relative terms.”

There is still lots of work to be done to ensure the future of the sports we love, however, especially when it comes to people’s perception of how air sports affect the world at large.

“Our main challenge is really to improve the image of air sports,” Duval added. “In my view, this is the best approach we can take to safeguard the future of our activities.”

Photo credit: Martin Scheel/azoom.ch